The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

In memory of Onie Clark, a colorful woman

Onie Clark"Onie Mae Cresong Clark, age 79, of Bristol, VA, went to be with the Lord on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at the NHC Healthcare of Bristol.  Onie was born April 8, 1935 in Washington County, Virginia, a daughter of the late Ward Christopher Cresong and Elvie Smith Cresong.  She was a lifelong resident of Scott County and Washington County, Virginia, where she was a homemaker and was of the Baptist faith.  She was preceded in death by her husband, Silas Clark..."

Back when I was knee high to a grasshopper, Onie and Silas lived up the creek from my childhood farm.  I would run down to visit, barefoot and clad only in underpants, until Onie finally put her foot down and required me to don a shirt.  Despite that one act of tough love, our neighbor was always ready to enfold me in her arms, where I was riveted by her neon orange chewing gum, a color I'd never seen before in my life, and by her southern makeup, so different from the appearance of my clean-faced Yankee mother.

Graduation photoBut appearances weren't important to me at that age.  I was on a mission, and once inside, I headed straight for the bathroom.  No, I didn't need to go, but our family's farm only boasted an outhouse, so the concept of peeing in a toilet was remarkable to my young mind.  Plus, Onie's bathroom had real green carpeting on top of the closed toilet lid, so soft I wanted to run my hands through the pile.  In fact, I probably hid out there for several minutes, drawing pictures in the deep yarn.

Onie with pot-bellied stoveBack in the kitchen, I entered Onie's domain, decorated with big ceramic bins in the shape of mushrooms.  Our country neighbor was most likely cooking soup beans and biscuits, but hers was a version remarkably dissimilar to the type my health-conscious parents set out on our table.  Grownup Anna knows that the difference was copious butter and salt, plus a healthy hunk of bacon in the beans, but child-Anna only knew that Onie could cook like no one else.  There would be yellow tomatoes with red centers, so juicy they oozed across the plate, and perhaps an ear of sweet corn on the side.  I definitely wanted to be invited to dinner.

At the time when Onie was part of my village, my nuclear family was so dirt poor that all of us were fed free lunches at school.  In fact, I remember my kindergarten teacher giving me a red, hooded cape that I cherished, not realizing she felt me a charity case.  And I remember how much I yearned for the big, beautiful boxes of crayons that the other kids brought out to color with, complete with metallic hues and a sharpener in the back.

Me dreamingLater, I would become saddened by Christmases where the presents were never quite what I asked for.  One year, I yearned for Archie Carr's Handbook of Turtles, and was instead gifted with the larger and more colorful (but harder to read) Encyclopedia of Turtles.  I'm not even sure the issue was so much money as a difficulty deciphering the dreams of a complicated child, but to Onie, I wasn't so complex.  My neighbor saw the silver and gold crayons dancing through my dreams and she gave me the best gift I'd ever received in my young life --- a box of crayons so big the sticks were arranged in stadium seating.  My brother Joey and I would later melt a few crayons on our tin roof, molding them into shapes as glorious as the drawings I made when the crayons were first sharp and new.  That gift may well be the reason I majored in art (as well as biology) when the time came to go to college.


As with her husband, I never really knew Onie as an adult.  When she passed away this week, I hadn't truly visited with her in years.  But my memories of sitting on the ground by her porch and gently massaging sedum leaves into balloons while Onie and Mom visited together will last forever.  And whenever I walk by my touch-me-not flowers that descended from Onie's seeds, I'll think of the colorful woman who once made my dreams come true.  Thank you for the crayons, Onie, and for spreading color and love through my young world.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing. (I had an Onie in my life, too.)
Comment by Julie Fri Jul 18 08:02:02 2014
I enjoyed that so much, our childhoods sound similar and in my case it was my Granny. Keep the stories coming.
Comment by Teresa Lee Fri Jul 18 08:46:46 2014
Wonderful post for a wonderful woman. I wish I could have known her as well.
Comment by Eric in Japan Fri Jul 18 10:18:37 2014
what a lovely story! i had one too, my hillbilly grandmother (and i use the term hillbilly with the greatest respect). my parents were very abusive, and the relatively little time i spent with grandmother enabled me to become a loving person in spite of that. we never, ever know how profoundly we can influence a child's life with even the smallest act of support or kindness, which i think is the best reason in the world to help a young person at every opportunity.
Comment by teabag Tue Jul 22 06:53:59 2014

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